It’s Max’s 4th birthday today.
When we first met him, he was 17 months old. He adored my husband James instantly but he barely tolerated me. I remember trying to bond with him, surrounded by social workers and foster carers, and feeling like world’s most useless human.
I didn’t know how to change a nappy, I couldn’t get him to eat and if I went near him without someone else present, he would sob. I was convinced that kids and dogs had a kind of sixth sense – that they could sniff out ‘bad’ people. His reaction felt like proof that I would never be a good mum and would certainly never be his mum.
Fortunately, James had two months off work to allow us to bond with the children – Mini was 7 and would be going to school when the academic year started so it was important to get as much time together as possible before then. Being home as a family for two months was a godsend but before I knew it James went back to work and I was alone with the kids.
I felt overwhelmed, lost and hopeless and it didn’t take long for depression to set in. Not for the first time, I thought I’d have to concede and start a course of anti-depressants. Doctors, friends and family members were suggesting that would be the best option, even if just for a short while but I was scared a short while would become a long while and a long while would become life-long dependence. I’d lie in my bed each morning, wishing the mattress would just fold and swallow me, feeling like a husk of a person with nothing left of who I was and possessing none of the ingredients for who I needed to become. That feeling lasted for almost a year.
I had so much knowledge about what to do to make myself feel better but couldn’t see the point. Yes, I could exercise, meditate, journal, practice gratitude and a whole host of other things but what difference would it make if I was fundamentally a failure as a mother? I don’t think I’ve ever felt lower or more worthless in my life.
That was when I reached out to other adoptive parents – people I met at courses, on twitter and through blogs – and I found out that, to a large extent, what I was experiencing was normal. It seemed that everyone went through one version of this or another – the breaking and re-forming of identity and the accompanying pain. Knowing it was normal changed how I felt about it – it changed how I perceived what the future held and it made me see that what I was facing was temporary.
I have kept that with me through every subsequent dark period. It is temporary, says the voice in my head. No matter what, something will change and you will move past it.
Today, as I got out of the car to run an errand, my son blew me a kiss and then turned to James and said, “I love mummy so much.” On my return home, he hugged me and said, “Mummy, I missed you.”
All changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy; for what we leave behind us is a part of ourselves; we must die to one life before we can enter another.
The big changes we make in our lives carry pain and grief along with them but we shouldn’t make the mistake of taking those things as signs that we can’t do it. They are signs that we are doing it.